My wife and I are entrenched in the never ending saga of catching up on movies. We just watched The Maze Runner after seeing the trailer for the film a few months ago.
At first glimpse, the film captured our attention with instant action, a fresh idea, solid acting and beautiful footage. These things continued through the end of the film for the most part. However, as the end approached and a sequel became apparent, I found myself not that interested. Whereas recent films like The Hunger Games and Divergent left me looking forward to the next installment. So why did The Maze Runner fall short? I mean, it had the same general feel and idea of the previously mentioned stories, right? Something was missing.
So why did The Maze Runner fall short? What was different than Divergent or The Hunger Games?
The Moral Premise by Stanley D. Williams, Ph.D talks about writing stories for the big screen. Williams doesn’t dive into the basic steps of screen writing, but instead discusses the “real” story underneath the layers of any good film. For example, Die Hard isn’t really about a New York cop fighting to save a building from terrorists. Die Hard is about a husband fighting to save his marriage. The “moral premise” of Die Hard gave important depth to the story. Strip away the husband and wife part, and Die Hard would be just another brainless action movie.
This is where The Maze Runner tanked. Our protagonist, Thomas, is brave, strong and caring. He embodies the elements that make us want to root for him as a hero. Plus he’s stuck in a bad place trying to survive, so there is plenty to empathize with. However, we don’t know anything else. We don’t know what he’s fighting for besides basic survival, and that leaves this film at a shallow level emotionally. They throw in a girl later who seems to know our hero, and we see glimpses of some type of possible romance from a fragmented past, but it didn’t work.
Without a good moral premise you end up throwing millions at something that isn’t that spectacular at the end of the day.
Consider Jurassic Park: If JP were just about dinosaurs chomping on humans, it wouldn’t have done as well as it did. But it was about much more than that. At the beginning we learn that our protagonist really can’t stand kids. But by the end of Jurassic Park he’s learned to love them. The creator of the park has a God complex/need for recognition that he has to let go of. We see a self-centered employee meet the fate of his decisions. All of these moral themes give JP depth.
The tricky part about a moral premise is that we don’t always leave the theater thinking about it. We know we loved a movie, and the special FX or action sequences were awesome, but the subtle moral theme is what really grips our hearts. Gladiator was an enrapturing film with amazing battle sequences and breathtaking footage. But that’s not really what made it a great film. Think about why you liked it. Think about the end as Maximilian fades between this world and the next. Think about the words, “Go to them.” that escaped from the mouth of his past lover. Think about his friend kneeling in the colosseum at the end, or the past, indulged gladiator that sacrifices everything for another. There’s a lot of depth in Gladiator. The fighting is just the surface layer that initially sells the tickets.
Every good film has at least one underlying theme. This is what the audience connects with. It’s what brings in the box office dollars and drives the film to live on through the decades.
This is what the Maze Runner was completely devoid of.